News / Health

Malawi Sex Initiation Puts Girls at Risk for HIV

FILE - A young girl carries her sister through a cornfield in Masongo village outside Lilongwe, Malawi, May 13, 2008.
FILE - A young girl carries her sister through a cornfield in Masongo village outside Lilongwe, Malawi, May 13, 2008.
Lameck Masina

In Malawi, almost a third of new HIV cases occur in women under the age of 30, in part because of traditional coming-of-age ceremonies that introduce young girls to sex, according to AIDS activists.

Malawi’s Demographic and Health Survey shows that 20 percent of young girls in the southern African country become sexually active before age 13. Many of them do so with limited knowledge of safe sex.

People working to combat HIV/AIDS infection blame cultural and traditional practices in which girls are sent to special initiation camps. There, the girls sometimes are encouraged to have sex to transition into adulthood.

The practice is rampant in Malawi’s southern district of Mangochi, said Chief Chowe, a senior traditional leader. He added that it exposes girls to high risk of HIV infection because they’re usually partnered with older men who sleep with several girls in the camp.

The Girls Empowerment Network (GENET), a nonprofit organization in Malawi, works to discourage girls from engaging in sex at a young age. The traditional practice poses a danger of girls becoming addicted to sex, communications adviser Joyce Mkandawire said.

“Once the girls are introduced to the first sexual encounter, they go back and do it on their own because they had done it during the initiation camp,” Mkandawire explained.

Many girls become pregnant and drop out of school, she said.

Chowe and Mkandawire said several interventions are addressing the problems associated with early sex among girls.

Chowe said he has been teaching initiation camp counselors about the dangers of encouraging the girls to have early sexual intercourse. With other district leaders, he has developed by-laws that aim to curb sexual activity among girls.

“As traditional leaders in Mangochi, we have designed by-laws which require all school-going age groups should go to school and if they get pregnant, we have imposed a fine on the culprits,” Chowe said. “A parent is asked to pay a goat if his or her girl child has been impregnated while in school.” 

Mkandawire said her organization is pushing to modify the initiation camps’ syllabus. “Actually we would like to replace initiation ceremonies with summer camps where girls are told to behave like girls and encourage them to stay in school and not introduce them into womanhood,” she said.

The Malawi government’s coordinating arm for HIV activities, the National AIDS Commission, says it supports several initiatives aimed at transforming traditional practices that lead to HIV infection among girls.

“We have educational projects where we work with traditional leaders, social leaders and opinion makers in the community to ensure that harmful cultural practices are no longer practiced,” said Linje Manyozo, a commission specialist in social and behavioral change intervention.

The government is implementing a five-year national HIV/AIDS strategy it launched in 2012.

The strategy calls for teaching girls life skills so they understand their rights and become empowered.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Festus from: Asaba
July 21, 2014 6:34 PM
This shows the level of backwordness of the people in this parth of the world. They need finacial suport to boost their educational sector.

by: Anne Cross from: USA
July 19, 2014 12:39 PM
Can you identify the source of your statement that 20 percent of young girls become sexually active before age 13? The post implies that it is from the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, yet the 2010 survey shows that only 12% of girls aged 15-19 said they had sex before they were 15.

by: Ranger Dan Parsons from: Michigan
July 19, 2014 10:32 AM
Sounds like a made up "Tradition" created to benefit only promiscuous, disease infested, pedophiles. I wonder what lies and fake truths these poor girls are told by these predators to get them to "Comply". There are sleazy pigs that prey on women worldwide.

by: Robert Singleton
July 18, 2014 6:57 PM
Lameck Masina, please stop using the passive voice. It moves the focus from the criminals onto their victims. It allows criminals to get away with all sorts of heinous atrocities unnoticed. Using the passive voice is the exact verbal equivalent of turning the camera away from the perpetrator of a crime and onto the victim while filming.

You said, "...girls are sent to special initiation camps. There, the girls sometimes are encouraged to have sex to transition into adulthood...

Who sends the girls to these camps? Who encourages them to have sex? Who equates adulthood with sexual activity?

The practice is rampant in Malawi’s southern district of Mangochi, said Chief Chowe, a senior traditional leader. He added that it exposes girls to high risk of HIV infection because they’re usually partnered with older men who sleep with several girls in the camp." Who partners these girls with older men? Chief Chowe?

As a senior chief traditional leader, Chief Chowe is largely to blame for this problem. He is aware of the risks, and therefore he should be fighting to stop this tradition. It sounds like a pedophile's paradise. This initiation practice does not appear to benefit the girls at all. What's in it for them?

Who practices these harmful "cultural" practices? Who are the "culprits" in this situation? The impregnators!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs